How to make ads less adversarial

Trust in digital advertising is improving, but there is still work to be done to improve the perception of pervasive ads. Columnist Brad O'Brien offers tips on how to maintain a positive relationship between your ads and your audiences.

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Ads on social platforms and sponsored content on media sites are becoming more pervasive and increasingly harder to spot. While there has been an overall improvement in trust in advertising over the last three years, digital ad distrust still hovers around 39 percent, per YouGov.

Your brand relies on social advertising and sponsored content to feed the top, middle and bottom of the buying funnel. While these platforms offer excellent exposure, there is an inherent risk of the presence of your ads resulting in a negative impression of your brand to some consumers.

This article will dive into how to deliver more perceived value from your social and content-based ads, and less of an adversarial relationship with consumers who view and click on them.

Maintain your brand & editorial integrity

Even though other advertisers inundate users on social platforms and media sites with click-bait, don’t allow your brand to do so. Ensure that your ads and sponsored content are true to your brand’s core product or service. Resist the urge to promote any posts or content that will garner a lot of interest or clicks, but not accurately represent your brand.

A good rule of thumb to follow when promoting editorial-based content is to not force a hard sell upon the reader. Don’t lure readers in with informative content and then try to force them to convert.

Another is to produce content that will educate or entertain the reader and provide legitimate editorial value. When you follow these rules, readers will feel they are reading content from a brand that is authoritative and thought-leading in its vertical.

Deliver an authentic experience, true to your headline

This tip is one that I cannot put enough emphasis on: your headlines must accurately depict the experience that the reader will be led to after they click. Otherwise, you end up paying for unqualified clicks and an unsatisfied reader.

Here is a trick I have used in the past: present your headline concepts to an unbiased/uninformed third party. Have the person(s) write a brief synopsis of what they envision the content to be, based upon the headline. If you find that the perception of your content is unclear from your headlines, adjust headlines or content accordingly.

Blacklist and whitelist where your ads appear

Many social and native advertising platforms allow for some level of blacklisting of media sites where you do not wish your ads to show. The most common capability is to enable advertisers to blacklist categories of media sites (e.g., adult, political, tech) An example of this type of barring of ad placements can be enabled on Facebook and Instagram’s Audience Network.

Some native ad networks enable advertisers to reverse-engineer the blacklisting approach, with a targeted whitelisting approach identifying sites where you prefer your ads to be shown. For example, if your brand sells wearable technology and would resonate well with a tech-engaged audience, you could use this whitelisting tactic to target buckets of similar tech-focused sites, or even just one site, and optimize independently of your other campaigns.

Refine headlines & creative continuously

You can always find ways to reach your audience more effectively, and adopting a continual test-and-learn strategy ensures that your ad dollars continue to be well spent. Analyze engagement signals like Facebook relevance scores and intent signals like click-through rate (CTR), and iterate upon what’s working well.

Pay close attention to frequency, and look for any signs of audience fatigue, such as a decrease in CTR or an increase in CPM or CPC (cost per click).

Pro tip: Some social and native ad platforms will provide an “x out report” upon request. Reach out to your account representatives to learn which of your ads or headlines are producing the highest rate of users wishing to no longer see your ad.

Measure & optimize toward actions

Do not focus your efforts on a vanity metric such as click-through rate to determine whether your social ads and sponsored content are being well-received by your audience. Instead, use back-end measurement benchmarks that signify a qualified and high-quality visitor to your site or app.

Depending on the objective of your social ad or sponsored content placement, the measurable actions will differ. For purely editorial promotions, you should measure elements such as time on site and page views. For advertorial and direct response objectives, these measurable actions will take the form of email signups, form completions and purchases.

Leverage trusted third parties & influencers

Word-of-mouth advertising is the oldest and often the most effective form of advertising. When a brand is recommended by a friend, reputable media source or an influencer you personally connect with, it carries more weight than a brand endorsing itself. Influencers, even when clearly paid to endorse a brand, do effectively persuade — particularly with millennials.

For your social and content marketing initiatives, do not be shy about leveraging any positive brand endorsements. Amplify positive brand mentions with paid advertising dollars to build credibility and social proofing. Also use “calls to authority” in your ad copy and creative, such as “featured in, as seen in…”

With these tips in mind, how will you actively work to make your ads less adversarial? If you have any thoughts or additional tips, join in the conversation on Twitter with #TrustInAds.

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About the author

Brad O'Brien
Brad O'Brien joined 3Q Digital as VP of Social after spending several years on the brand side at Provide Commerce & FTD companies. Brad has a strong background in Social, SEO, ecommerce, landing page and test optimizations, analytics, as well as production and promotion of digital content. Originally from New Jersey, Brad went to college in Virginia at James Madison University and received a degree in Marketing. He has called San Diego home for the last seven years, and also works out of San Diego. Brad enjoys surfing, being outdoors, music festivals, traveling, cooking, and spending time with his dog Duke.

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